The Innovation Ecosystem Map of St. Louis

Innovation districts are areas featuring dense communities of startups, research-oriented institutions, tech, creative companies and entrepreneur support organizations. They facilitate the creation and commercialization of new ideas and support the city’s economy.

In St. Louis, we have many such innovation hubs. These districts are the hubs you’ll be working in and around the most as you build your startup as they all offer shared and dedicated office or lab space and incredible coworking facilities and weekly networking opportunities.

Below is an introductory guide to the core hubs of innovation in St. Louis. We’ve simplified things to show where a specific startup ecosystem is especially dense with business resources, but remember the networks ultimately span the entire system and everyone is working together towards one mission: to build a greater St. Louis.

Downtown

Once the 4th largest city in the USA, Downtown St. Louis is re-emerging as one of the nation’s fastest-growing innovation hubs.

Supporting nearly 200 different organizations, at the center of the St. Louis’s downtown innovation community is T-REX, a business incubator and coworking space that plays home to startups, venture capital firms (VCs), entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs), and accelerator programs.

When upstart companies are ready to fly the nest investment funds and capital connections created by the Missouri Technology Corporation, St. Louis Regional Chamber, and Downtown STL Inc are made available to help founders find offices, attract talent and… even purchase and refurbish a historic building.

Yep, just talk to SwipeSum, Covo, Label Insight, Less Annoying CRM and Clever Real Estate about how their startup journeys started from downtown St. Louis.

Tech Ecosystem

To be clear, St. Louis’s Tech Startup Ecosystem spans the entire city, but it’s fair to say that T-REX and CORTEX are the primary centers of gravity.

As a new business owner in St. Louis, you’ll be commuting between both on a regular basis.

Through the seed funding and mentorship offered by ITEN, Stadia Ventures, Capital Innovators and Arch Grants’ Global Startup Competition, St. Louis attracts founders from all over the world to participate in seasonal startup accelerator programs taking place across the city.

Follow-on investment rounds awarded by Cultivation Capital, Arch Angels, Lewis & Clark Ventures and iSelect Fund, mean that new companies are continually flowing into the city.

FinTech Ecosystem

Known as the “The Third Coast of FinTech innovation,” Downtown St. Louis boasts the highest density of investment advisors outside of Boston and New York City.

Recently, the Economist named St. Louis the largest center of financial services firms outside of Manhattan.

T-REX is also home to SixThirty, an accelerator program and venture fund specifically focused on FinTech (and Cybersecurity) startups… and talking of FinTech startups: Square just moved into the neighborhood.

Cybersecurity Ecosystem

St. Louis is uniquely positioned as a hub for cybersecurity. Already home to a strong financial services sector, a deep commitment to cybersecurity naturally follows.

Running that logic is SixThirty Cyber, a second venture fund that is dedicated to accelerating early-stage cybersecurity startups.

Homegrown companies like Bandura Cyber and Observable Networks are proof positive that, in St. Louis, you can find growth and exits in this sector.

Furthermore, with Scott Airforce Base in the Metro East and the CyberUp apprenticeship program and learning center at T-REX, there’s cybersecurity talent on tap.

Geospatial Ecosystem

St. Louis’s best-kept secret is the rapid growth of its geospatial-intelligence industry. Anchored by organizations like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Downtown and fueled by “Geosaurus,” T-REX’s Geospatial Innovation Resource Center, and a rapidly growing presence of university geospatial programs throughout the region, St. Louis is primed to attract and create talented geospatial professionals from around the world.

Cortex

The Cortex Innovation Community is a vibrant 200- acre innovation hub and technology district integrated into St. Louis’ historic Central West End, surrounded by nationally ranked universities and medical centers.

In response to job losses from Pfizer due to globalization, Cortex was created to stem the brain drain of the incredible professional BioTech talent that continued to call the city home.

Through an unprecedented collaboration between five anchor partners, a corporate alliance comprised of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, BJC Healthcare and Missouri Botanical Garden formed to create a single bio-medical innovation district: CORTEX.

The long bet paid off. 20 years later, CORTEX’s innovation footprint spans many more industry sectors is now home to more than 350 organizatios and five unique innovation centers: Center for Emerging Technologies, BioGenerator, CIC St. Louis, Venture Café, and BioSTL.

BioTech Ecosystem

The St. Louis region has been a BioTechnology for decades and, re-invented, the city-wide BioTech startup ecosystem has been paying real dividends to investors and creating a thriving job sector too.

To name a recent example, the life science division of Confluence was acquired for $100 million while retaining jobs 40 world-class scientists in St. Louis to continue cutting-edge research into drug discovery.

Providing shared lab space through multiple innovation districts, from Cortex to 39 North, startup founders have access to fantastically effective life sciences and biotechnology business incubators.

Their mentorship has helped new companies like VaxNewMo pursue FDA clearance; Canopy BioSciences create a talent magnet; and Adarza Biosystems raise tens of millions of dollars in startup funding.

Opportunity in St. Louis’s biotech sector has never been greater.

MedTech Ecosystem

Cortex is anchored by BJC Healthcare, Washington University and Saint Louis University, so counting those medical campuses alone would already represent a region overflowing with healthcare talent.

But mix in SSM Health, Mercy Hospital, and GlobalSTL’s regular Healthcare Innovation Summit, which directly introduces MedTech startups to potential customers in St. Louis healthcare industry, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more abundant concentration of medical industry innovators anywhere else.

Yet through university backed extra-curricular programs like Sling Health, St. Louis’s MedTech ecosystem is engaging innovators at the earliest days of their career: from medical students at just the idea stage of the company.

And the ecosystem has earned plenty of plaudits for the mentorship it has provided student entrepreneurs.

From Sparo Health presenting at The White House to Geneoscopy winning Wash U’s Global Impact Award, and over $4M invested in CareSignal, St. Louis’ MedTech ecosystem is truly a vision of health.

Energy Ecosystem

The combined presence of Venture Cafe and UMSL Accelerate at Cortex and the increasingly influential presence of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency downtown is elevating local discussions that contemplate what the future of cities may look like.

As a result, there is a new ecosystem of sorts emerging that is interested in the multi-disciplinary questions of “what makes a city Smart?” And these questions go beyond the sharing economy.

The Ameren Accelerator provides a strong support structure for “smart grid” startups tackling energy management, while Venture Cafe frequently hosts town hall discussions in which residents can converse directly with the City of St. Louis.

For those who want to explore civic tech opportunities even further, there’s the Open STL group who are enabling citizens to collaborate on developing experimental tech solutions for local government.

An appetite for smart city solutions has enabled startups like CTY and Coolfire Solutions to run sophisticated city-wide technology tests.

39 North

39 North is the St. Louis region’s AgTech Innovation District, occupying 600 acres in the heart of the Midwest. The district is home to international leaders in agriculture research and commercialization, bioscience startups, and the highest concentration of professional plant scientists in the world.

BRDG Park

AgTech Ecosystem

With global agricultural giants like Monsanto/Bayer and the renowned Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the largest independent plant science research institute in the world, St. Louis is uniquely positioned as a global leader in agricultural technology.

The 39 North innovation district attracts innovative agricultural organizations from around the world, and St. Louis’ top plant science and AgTech companies, including Benson Hill Biosystems, operate from this innovation district.

Plant Science Ecosystem

Owned and operated by St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the Helix Center BioTech Incubator at 39 North provides an unprecedented opportunity for budding entrepreneurs wishing to connect with the largest community of plant science PhDs in the U.S.

For the more established, BioResearch & Development Growth (BRDG) Park, serves emerging, post-incubator companies. BRDG Park is designed for post-incubator companies from early-stage to those that have advanced their science, demonstrated proof of concept, raised additional funds and are poised for growth.